Measure for Measure: The Dark Comedy

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The Dark Comedy of Measure for Measure

 

Measure for Measure, the last of Shakespeare's great comedies, is also the darkest of his comedies, and represents his transition to tragic plays. This play differs from Shakespeare's other comedies, and is in many ways more akin to tragedy than to comedy. In setting, plot, and character development Measure for Measure has a tragic tone, however, because none of the main characters actually loses his life, this play is considered a comedy.

 

Almost all of Shakespeare's comedies have dual localities: the real world of crime, punishment, and responsibility, and an idyllic world, where reality is malleable, and forgiving. For example, As You Like It occurs in both the world of the
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He nearly succeeds, and it appears as if he will escape punishment entirely. Only in the last scene does Shakespeare provide resolution.

 

The entire play bears a tragic weight that Shakespeare lifts only in the final moments. This resolution, however, adds only a nominal comedic feel to the play. The onset of the final scene drastically alters the plot which seemed as if it would offer no justice; such a "happy" ending clashes with the previous events. The duke, sometimes sinister mastermind of the plot, forces the final judgment on the characters, and offers little real relief. For example, the duke demands that Isabella, who seemed set on a chaste life as a nun, marry him. The plot has thrown her from one precarious situation to another, and she is finally left with no real option, but to marry the duke. Shakespeare provides no evidence that Isabella wants this, nor does he allow her any real escape from the duke's demand. In essence, she is in the same position with the duke as she was with Angelo. The duke, cruelly pretends that Claudio, Isabella's beloved brother is dead; he pretends to side with Angelo, thereby exacerbating the mental anguish of Mariana and Isabella; he bolstersAngelo's confidence that he will escape punishment. Even through the end,